Insurers Wrangle Over Amber Heard Defamation Costs

By | July 11, 2022
New You can now listen to Insurance Journal articles!

A little over a month after a jury found that actress Amber Heard had defamed ex-husband Johnny Depp, one insurer of Heard is asking a court to rule it has no obligation to indemnify her.

New York Marine and General Insurance Co. said in its court filing Friday in the U.S. District Court in California that the jury’s finding of defamation “establish that Heard’s liability is caused by the willful acts of Heard.” As a result, the insurer does not need to pay out on Heard’s general liability policy with per occurrence limit of liability of $1 million since willful acts are not covered.

In early June a jury awarded actor Depp more than $10 million in his libel lawsuit against Heard, who was accused by Depp of lying about his abuse of her during their marriage. Depp filed his lawsuit against Heard in Virginia in March 2019, accusing her of defamatory statements in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

Jury Sides With Johnny Depp in Libel Case, Awards Him $10M

New York Marine, a member of ProSight Specialty Group, said it told Heard the company would provide a legal defense and supplied a law firm but the firm was not included and eventually withdrew from the case, according to the court document. Under the terms of the policy, Heard had obligations to include the insurer during legal proceedings, said New York Marine.

The court document also outlined the court’s instructions to the jury following the Depp-Heard trial to determine if Heard’s comments were false, intentionally defamatory, and made with actual malice. The jury’s findings meant that each are true, the insurer alleged.

New York Marine is looking for a declaratory judgment to establish it has no obligation to indemnify Heard for the judgement against her or any underlying actions.

Meanwhile, Travelers Commercial Insurance Co. filed court documents in the same venue about a year ago to get New York Marine to share in the defense costs related to the Heard case. Travelers, which covered Heard under a homeowners policy, alleges Heard had the right to be defended by independent counsel at New York Marine’s expense. New York Marine “instead appointed defense counsel of its choice and it repeatedly refused demands by the mutual insured and by Travelers to participate in the defense with counsel of the mutual insured’s choosing.”

Travelers said New York Marine “intentionally violated its duty to its mutual insured and to Travelers.” Travelers said it picked up the defense tab and wants New York Marine to reimburse Travelers half.

A filing in April said the Depp-Heard case had resulted “in more than $8 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses.” The case was temporarily stayed until the Depp-Heard trial concluded. A status conference is scheduled for later this month.

Photo: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard at the “3 Days to Kill” premiere in Los Angeles in 2014.

Topics Carriers

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.